The basis of “The Farewell” seems like the perfect setup for a fictional movie, but it’s based on a true story. The film, written and directed by Lulu Wang, tells the true story of an actual lie Wang’s family told her grandmother.
Actress Awkwafina plays the role of Billi. She’s a Chinese-American woman who learns her grandmother, Nai Nai, only has a short time to live. Instead of telling her the truth, her family plans a quickie wedding for her cousin as an excuse to bring the entire family together for a final goodbye. Billi and her family have lived in New York City for most of her life, while her uncle, cousin and their families have lived in Japan. The wedding in China is the first time the entire family has been together in decades.
Billi is the only person in her family opposed to the plan. They blame her western upbringing, and everyone (including her grandmother’s doctor) insist the lie is just a normal part of Chinese culture. The family says it’s customary to lie, because telling Nai Nai the truth will only make her last few months on Earth sad, and could even cause her to die sooner.
Although it seems like Billi is alone in her thinking, we see several moments where other members her family, including her father, uncle and cousin, all break down as they attempt to mask their sorrow and pretend to be happy for Nai Nai’s sake.
The film has the tough task of making what seems like an unfathomable situation seem relatable, and it succeeds. It has the perfect mix of drama, with some comedic moments. Ironically, those moments come from Nai Nai herself, which is an interesting choice seeing as how she’s the source of most of the movie’s sorrow.
“The Farewell” marks the first dramatic role for rapper-turned-actress Awkwafina. She was most recently in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Ocean’s Eight”, both of which she was the comedic relief.
In this movie, she still has a chance to show her comedic prowess, but shines in her role as Billi. She’s able to show the plight of Billi, caught between honoring her family’s wishes and wanting to scream the truth from the top of her lungs. It’s a difficult role to play but you can feel and see her internal struggle.
There were some times I felt myself yearning for more from the movie. The heartwarming depiction of this family’s struggle made it relatable, but at times, it felt a little flat. I will say, I honestly had no idea what was going to happen next. The film moves with ease from scene to scene, but I was still unsure of what to expect next or how it would end.
We had the pleasure of having Lulu Wang in our Q13 studios on June 10th, where she talked about living through this in real life. One of her main takeaways was that as the lone westerner in her family, she felt like an outcast for wanting to tell the truth. This type of emotion is something I feel we can all relate to in a family setting. It’s that strange moment when you feel like you can’t relate to the people you’re supposed to relate to the most. The film beautifully brings this struggle to life.
Overall, I give “The Farewell” 4/5 stars. The dramatic movie makes you feel like you can relate to Billi’s struggle, even in if the idea of lying to your grandmother about her own health is a foreign concept. By the end of the movie, you’ll want to call your grandparent, or whoever’s closest to you in that capacity, and just let them know you love them.